Hawthorn Dining Room & Bar has finally arrived in Calgary. To accommodate the new restaurant, the Fairmont Palliser revamped the old Rimrock Dining Room and gutted the Oak Room. Locals had suffered without two stalwart YYC hotel staples for months. But the word stalwart has me thinking.
It was lovely to be included in the exclusive VIP media launch, but en route to the event, I was worried. It was years ago, but I’m still traumatized by the re-do of the Hotel Bel Air bar in LA, which lost its clubby library feel in a modern makeover, with an overly generous side of Wolfgang Puck. The grand dame of Calgary hotels is one of my favorite places in town — in fact, Blue Besos features a photo of yours truly at the Palliser, on the top right of the home page.
When arrived, I was immediately soothed by the prospect of finally being able to get a drink in the lobby. Before the arrival of Hawthorn you had to walk at least 20 steps further for a cocktail.
The lobby lounge leads to an intimate bar, already a hit for both diners and drinkers.
Comfy booths come with classic marble-topped tables. The gold art deco-style lights may be the teeniest bit phallic, but they come in handy for reading a menu — overall, the lighting in the space was a wee bit dim when I was there.
Epic ceilings give the new room that grand hotel feel. They were always there, but hidden by a false ceiling during the Rimrock days.
The old fireplace survived the renovation, and is now matched with gorgeous new chairs. You know this nook is going to be a favorite destination on Calgary’s copious chilly days.
Even the bathrooms make a massive statement with bold florals. I predict many a Saturday night selfie taken in the ladies’ loo.
Charlie Beil’s 1962 mural from the original restaurant is still here. With CBC’s David Gray in front of it. Hi David! But what about the food you ask?
Try the amazing Albacore Tuna to start. The orange slices make it extra summery and light. And you’ll have saved calories for…
… the skinniest frites in Calgary! A perfect pairing…
… with a steak served perfectly rare.
The desserts at Hawthorn are art forms. Tuck into a smooth, creamy Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta with sweet nut praline.
Who says you can’t have cake for breakfast? Not the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Mille Crepe dessert. And good to know: many of the menu items at Hawthorn ring in at less than usual high-end hotel prices.
Wondering what happened to the old Oak Room bar? It’s now an event room. I had some good times there, and I’ll miss those old polo photos, but the new Hawthorn, and its lack of TV screens, is much more my scene.
I do believe I’ve found my new Calgary go-to. Well done, Fairmont Palliser. Well done.
When Waalflower Kitchen and Cocktails opens its doors to the public on March 5, chances are good it will be the Cocktail part of their name that will lure you in. Their approach to modern mixology brings you combinations you may have never sipped before, like this Gardener’s Tonic cocktail with butterfly pea flower. But, when asked to make a not-so-hipster Pink Lady (not pictured because I immediately guzzled it with gusto), they are ready for any #cocktailchallenge. Don’t try this at home, kids. Simply because it won’t taste as good.Look up from your glass, and you may notice there’s something… familiar about this place. The location at the bottom of Edmonton Trail, in the old Waal building (kudos on the cheeky name, Waalflower), used to be the home of Whitehall, and home to many good times. Now, with new decor and more generous approach to the space around the bar, it appears that the good times are about to return.Just when you wondered if there were any reporters left in the world of media conglomeration (perhaps you don’t, but it’s a topic I think about all too often), Calgary’s foodie media showed up in full force, ready to see if Waalflower would bring it, beyond the purple drinks. Hi Shelley!It was time for me to take my seat. And take a picture to prove my selfie-averse self was actually there.We were started off with a scrumptious creamy schmear.Lamb meatballs, meet my tummy.Tuna and smoked trout? Check.Eggs for dinner? Yes. Especially when paired with Beef Merguez Sausage en Cocotte with dates and cilantro.The barramundi with orange, arugula and caponata sauce was delicious but difficult. If you order it, be prepared to de-bone your bites. Preferably before they reach your mouth. I haven’t cultivated this mediterranean talent, and my fabulousness as a fine diner suffered during this course.Meanwhile, the roasted chicken with spinach, lemon potatoes and garlic tzatziki offers a satisfying stick-to-your bones large entree with less complications. After dinner, it only made sense to head back to the bar, where the VIP preview had reached another level. As appropriate for any party influenced by copious amounts of cocktails. CBC’s David Gray of the Eyeopener (see if you can spot him in the blissed-out blur of this action shot) had an early morning wakeup call, though, so he resisted the repeat siren call of Bar Manager JD Darnes (hunched over his next concoction on the right).Mike O’Connor, of Calgary Stampede Rodeo Committee fame, and Thomas Keeper of Tink Real Estate (and reality tv star, but that’s another story) epitomize the dichotomy of Calgary’s fashion story: you can’t go wrong with sleek city style or cowboy chic. Both are always apropos. Of course, you can never control it. Any good party anywhere always ends up in the kitchen. Welcome to the neighborhood, Waalflower! And thanks for the wonderful evening.
Puerto Escondido is one of my favorite beach towns, because it manages to have a laid-back surfer vibe with amazing restaurants. Here are my top picks for foodie food and creative cocktails on the Oaxaca Coast in Mexico.
Who’s the Calgary chef (and the only chef from Canada) in Netflix’s new show? Plus a tour of a brand new Bel-Aire mansion, a local film hoping for an Oscar nod, Grant Fuhr on the red carpet, one of Teatro’s hot spots is now open for lunch, and the cutest video you’ll ever see of the pandas at the Calgary zoo. All in this edition of BBTV Update!
Calgary chefs have put cowtown on the map in a slew of TV shows. We boast a high ratio of iron chefs, and last year Nicole Gomes took home $100k and the title of Top Chef, from the all-star season.
Now Chef Darren MacLean, seen above at his scrumptuous Shokunin restaurant in Mission, is one of the contenders on The Final Table — Netflix’s first foray into the dazzling world of chef-driven cooking competitions, complete with intimidating judges. The Final Table premieres on November 20.
The premise? 24 chefs vie to impress the world’s toughest palates as they whip up iconic dishes from nine nations in this star-packed competition. And yes, in classic Netflix style, you’ll be able to binge-watch it — all 10 episodes will be posted at the same time. Just in time for American Thanksgiving, for our friends to the south who will be in the ultimate food mood.
Get a seat at Shokunin for while you still can. It may become crowded with binge-watchers looking to binge-eat Chef Darren’s yummy yakitori. As he says in the trailer, being the final chef at the table “would absolutely change everything.” Check it out to cheer Chef Darren on!
Stepping inside Royale for lunch is like stepping into an oasis, not just because the noise from the seemingly permanent 17th Avenue construction is mercifully muted once the door shuts behind you. It’s the decor, the trees and all that natural light from above. Royale has been serving dinner since late 2017. Why did they wait so long to launch lunch?
Maybe it was because they wanted to make sure it was done right. Which, in my books, means a wine list that includes Whispering Angel rosé. Check. May I recommend the Artisan Green Salad to go with? The chevre makes these greens feel decadent, not diet.I followed with the Grilled Chinook Salmon, but it was a tough choice. The menu offered many items that justified a second glass of Whispering Angel.Take a moment to digest the view of the zinc-topped bar in Paris brasserie style. When Corbeaux Bakehouse, the restaurant formerly in this space, suddenly shut down after just one year sprucing up 17th, Teatro Group swooped in to expand its collection of Calgary comestible offerings to seven. In case you missed the Corbeaux moment, and still need your bearings, the restaurant is in the old Melrose location. Which I don’t miss. The ol’ renowned Melrose patio is now even better, with tiered levels to people-watch with discretion. If the construction stops in time for next summer, it will be an excellent place to rosé all day.
Meanwhile, back to our luscious lunch. Save room for foodie feed-worthy tiramisu. If you’re a dedicated copy consumer and you’ve read this far, I must stress: you can’t hear the construction when you’re inside. Go to Royale now, before the rest of the culinary crowds are in on the secret.
All photos except #2 courtesy of the amazing Maggie Keeper.
It’s not even Halloween yet, but I’m going to go there: are you ready for the holiday season? Don’t be disgruntled by my jumping the gun — my mention is motivated by a good cause… and a good drink.
Meet the beverage that gives back: Smokey the Pear. A swirling of spiced pear juice made in-house, spiced bitters, white rum, Cointreau, yuzu and egg white, every purchase of this concoction will provide $1 toward Closer to Home’s Adopt-A-Family program in Calgary.
Sip this smokeshow November 1 through December 15 to feel good about your seasonal swilling. At the Wednesday Room on Stephen Avenue. Cheers!
In this update I showcase a cool time-lapse of WestJet’s new low-cost carrier, Swoop, getting branded in bright pink, delicious moments from Chef Meets BC Grape — the Calgary edition — as well as the 1000-mile diet (yes, you read that right) of the Calgary Zoo’s new pandas.
I am a sushi stickler. When you’re from Vancouver, that’s just how it is. However, with Calgary’s foodie revolution in full force, it was only a matter of time before I found a Japanese restaurant that met my standards. However, I didn’t expect the chef behind all this deliciousness to be a dude from Red Deer.Chef Darren MacLean knows how to bring the heat. After all, he used to be a topless server, slinging shooters at Cowboys! Luckily for us, being treated like a handsome hunk of meat never got in the way of Darren’s appreciation of a good piece of meat… especially if it’s Wagyu beef. Despite my headline, Shokunin specializes in yakitori. Chef Darren has been obsessed with Japanese food in general, ever since he tried Zen 8 in his Cowboys days. Now he gets to Japan six times a year to keep his craftsmanship up to par. Since Shokunin, loosely translated, means craftsman or artisan.
Darren’s down-to-earth personality drives the vibe at Shokunin. No bamboo and gently trickling waterfalls here. When you step in, it feels like a party. Chances are good some old school rap will be blaring on the sound system.To get your own party started, Shokunin has an extensive cocktail list of boozy, unexpected combos. The Clovers in Kyoto, pictured here, went down nice and easy.Then it’s time to get some tuna belly in your belly. Shokunin doesn’t offer many different types of fish — only the ones that Darren is sure are super-fresh. Note: this wasabi is too beautiful to dump into your soy sauce. It’s ground daily at Shokunin. Basically, every single item on every plate is bursting with flavor. It almost makes you want to hold off from drinking too much, so you can really appreciate everything.But then again, no Japanese dining experience is complete without some sake. Try the flight. Not only do they arrive in charmingly mis-matched cups…… but they are conveniently labeled, so you don’t forget what you’re drinking.Shokunin has tables, as well as a Chef’s table that’s cool for a large group, but we wanted to be where the action was. That glass wall protected us from the sizzle. Note — it’s warm and toasty by the grill, so it’s the perfect spot to wear your strappiest little black dress, or show off your muscles in a short-sleeved shirt, in the middle of winter. But, if you notice our scallops’ presentation, that sizzle sometimes continues beyond the kitchen.This scallop is ready for her closeup. Doesn’t this buxom beauty look like a she?At Shokunin, oysters alone aren’t aphrodisiacal enough. Caviar is added for good measure.If straight-up fish is not your thing, the diverse menu has delicious lightly battered options.Of course, once you go to this food zone, you need more drinks to go with it. Shokunin brews a lovely lager.Then, when the wagyu moment arrives, Shokunin also stocks some very nice red wine. And surprisingly sophisticated glasses. FYI, this was all part of the omakase — a multi-course menu using the best ingredients of the day.
Dessert! How many times have you had creme brulee at a Japanese joint? With miso in it, for good measure.Keep your eye on Chef Darren MacLean, because he’s about to blow up. I am sworn to secrecy, so I can’t give you the scoop, but something huge is about to happen to him this summer. This is on top of being named one Canada’s Top 50 restaurants. Visit Shokunin now, before you can’t get a reservation any more!